KYLE, S.D. — Domestic violence occurs more often in Indian country than in
the rest of the nation, and the Pine Ridge Reservation is no exception. Yet
Karen Artichoker, who lives on Pine Ridge, possesses a hopeful vision that
someday it will be eradicated.
In fact, she is so optimistic that she boldly claims that the end to
domestic violence will be led by American Indian women and families, and
that the deeply rooted culture is the force that will end violence.
Artichoker is the recipient of the national award “21 Leaders for the 21st
Century 2006,” awarded by Women’s eNews, which puts her on a list of
honorees who have worked to make a difference in society and in people’s
She has worked most of her professional life to ease the burden of domestic
violence, educate the public and help victims and violators alike.
Artichoker did not grow up on Pine Ridge. She attended elementary and
secondary schools in Pueblo, Colo., and earned a degree in sociology from
Colorado University. She returned to Pine Ridge to work with the community.
“I feel a great responsibility to the collective,” she said.
Artichoker started as a counselor on the Rosebud reservation and worked in
a group home. She then worked in detention for the Oglala Sioux Tribe and
ended up working in the psychiatric ward at the IHS facility.
“I was excited about working with mental health,” she said.
Artichoker later worked at Sioux San Hospital, the IHS facility in Rapid
City, which offered her the first opportunity to see domestic violence up
The result of her involvement in the anti-domestic violence movement was
the opening of Cangleska Inc., and the first family shelter on an American
Indian reservation. Now used as a national model, the Cangleska program
includes a shelter in Kyle, on Pine Ridge; another shelter in Martin, a
community on the edge of Pine Ridge; one in Rapid City, some 90 miles away;
and Sacred Circle, a national crisis center, also in Rapid City. Cangleska
means “medicine wheel” in Lakota.
“I never thought I was discriminated against because I was a woman,” she
said. She thought her Lakota heritage was the cause of the discrimination
she experienced. Before she left high school, a counselor advised her to
become a cosmetologist. She went to college instead, a hope her parents had
held for her.
“Then I started seeing sexism everywhere and started working to eradicate
it,” she said.
Artichoker became involved with the South Dakota Coalition Against Domestic
Violence & Sexual Assault and attributes her passion for the work to Tillie
Black Bear, of Rosebud, a nationally prominent name in the movement.
In 1987, she started work with others on Pine Ridge to bring about an end
to domestic violence on the reservation. A three-year grant funded the
Medicine Wheel project, which became a tribal program before becoming a
501(c)3 organization in 1996.
In 1997, a shelter opened in Kyle that now can house up to 13 women and
their children. A new shelter, now under construction, will house up to 38
The Oglala Sioux Tribe and the law enforcement and judicial systems support
Cangleska and the outreach programs that work with men who batter women.
Artichoker said in the beginning the movement was looked at as anti-male
and that all its programs were set up to break up families. She is very
insistent that men are very important to families; but because violence is
a force that breaks up families, workgroups are set up for men. Many men
are court-ordered to attend, but she said some come on their own.
“If all violence would stop, how would it change the face of the community?
Men’s violence devastates women and children, and women are reacting to
violence. That’s why we work with men. Men are an integral part of life. I
want the best for all of our people.”
There is no moment in a conversation with Artichoker that does not include
hope for the future of Indian country and families, and the eradication of
domestic violence. Any question about her is segued into her mission, or
she praises those who supported her in the beginning of her quest.
Artichoker’s past is all about what she can do with the future for
families, women and children, making sure she is identified as the
management team director and not the head of the entire organization.
Cangleska and Sacred Circle have 43 employees and an annual budget of $2.5
million to $3 million. Most of that money comes from donations and
With three daughters, two sons and nine grandchildren, she knows what it
takes to keep a family together — and violence is not part of that
“Children have a right to grow up here. All we are trying to do is help
rebuild a nation,” Artichoker said.